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Touch typically refers to the provision of tactile/kinesthetic stimulation to the newborn and young infant with the intended goal of facilitating early growth and development. Also known as "massage therapy," sensory experiences include stroking, holding, and passive movements. When applied to preterm infants who suffer from a lack of responsive, developmentally appropriate stimulation, positive effects include less need for ventilatory support, better orienting to the social environment, healthier changes between sleep and wake states, and shorter hospitalization. Beneficial effects depend on the duration, amount, and timing of stimulation—including the infant's stress level. Evidence suggests that massage therapy is an effective intervention with infants of depressed mothers and children suffering from painful procedures and neuromuscular and immune disorders. Research supports suggestions that stimulation increases nervous system components, which lower physiological arousal and production of stress hormones. These changes may then lead to better infant interactions with the social and nonsocial environments, and efficient metabolization of nutrients and enhanced immune function, all of which are essential for optimal growth and development.


Field, Tiffany M. "Massage Therapy Effects." American Psychologist53 (1998):1270-1281.

Lester, Barry M., and Edward Z. Tronick, eds. "Stimulation and the Preterm Infant" (special issue). Clinics in Perinatology 17, no. 1 (1990).

Philip Sanford Zeskind

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 8